Private Companies May Take Over Some Florida Schools

Published July 1, 2005

The Florida State Board of Education announced this spring it may grant outside organizations, including for-profit companies, management of some of the state’s persistently low-performing schools–a decision frowned upon by some Florida school districts.

In Florida, a school is deemed chronically failing under the state’s accountability system when it has received a grade of “F” in two of three years based on its students’ academic performance. Of the 14 chronically failing schools in the state, four are high schools.

“After three F’s, we’re sort of compelled to acknowledge the situation and do something differently,” State Board of Education Chairman Phil Handy told the St. Petersburg Times in late April.

In 2004, the board declared a state of emergency in certain districts with persistently low-performing schools, prompting changes to curricula and school administration. The Miami-Dade school district worked with 39 schools to improve achievement through curricular changes, establishing a longer school day, and other changes. The district replaced principals in 11 schools. Duval County schools sought changes to Ribault High School, a low-performing school serving predominantly black students, 90 percent of whom were reading below grade level.

Unpopular Decision

Duval County School Board member Brenda Priestly Jackson promised to fight any decision to have a private company take over Ribault High.

“Give us a chance to implement what we said we were going to do,” Jackson told the St. Petersburg Times. Other district leaders said they were skeptical of third-party takeovers.

In February, the state board began compiling a short list of companies that might take over the failing schools. Some with experience in turning failing schools around, such as Edison Schools, Victory Schools, Community Education Partners, and The Rensselaerville Institute, indicated interest in the task.

Krista Kafer ([email protected]) is a freelance education writer based in Denver.